Speaking Like A Pirate

For a limited time only, because some of you were kind enough to be interested, here is the last writing exercise I did for my online course. The passage in italics is the bulk of the information I was given, a newspaper story from the Guardian, from which I admit I lopped off the end because it repeated the same story with a few more details. So, I had to read through this and retell what happened from the perspectives of the captain, the pirates and the sharpshooters.

I feel at this point an overwhelming urge to grovel and justify. Last week I wasn’t sure I could do this at all, it’s so far outside my comfort zone. Do bear in mind that I’ve only written non-fiction for about twenty years. I’m sure all you talented fiction-writing bloggers out there would manage to produce far more vivid and distinct voices than I did, and include much better bits of the story. There’s something about not writing in my own voice that makes me feel so terribly vulnerable, let alone trying to write from a male perspective to a 250 word limit. But anyway, for better or worse, here it is:

The three Somali pirates thought the American warship was doing them a favour when it offered to tow the drifting lifeboat in which they were holding captain Richard Phillips after it ran out of fuel.

The USS Bainbridge fed out a 200-foot line but as the seas grew more choppy the American sailors hauled the rope in and brought the lifeboat much closer. Sitting in the wake of the US warship’s broad beam riding on the tiny craft would have been a lot less rough.

But it also brought pirates within range of three snipers perched on the Bainbridge’s stern and made the Somalis more stable targets. When the order came, it took just one shot each from the three sharpshooters to end the five-day stand off and rescue Phillips after he was seized from an American-registered container ship, the Maersk Alabama.
Vice admiral William Gortney, commander of the US fifth fleet, told reporters that US navy special forces were dropped by parachute in to the sea at night close to the Bainbridge and brought on board under cover of dark after President Obama authorised the use of force to free Phillips if his life was in danger.

Gortney said that one of the pirates was seen to be pointing a weapon at the captain’s back and the snipers “took it that the pirate was ready to use that weapon”. He said that when all three pirates where in their sights “with their heads and shoulders exposed” – two of them emerging from the covered lifeboat while the third could be seen through a window guarding the bound hostage – the sharpshooters opened fire simultaneously hitting each of the pirates in the head.

The navy special forces then hauled themselves along the tow rope to the lifeboat to rescue Phillips.

The Bainbridge would have been relatively stable but the lifeboat was still moving around, and the snipers fired in darkness using night sights. Gortney said that the sharpshooters were able to pick off their targets with a single shot because they were “extremely, extremely well-trained”.

The pirates had accepted the US warship’s invitation to take a tow as their situation grew increasingly desperate after the Americans refused to discuss paying a $2m ransom for Phillips. The lifeboat ran out of fuel and was adrift in the searing heat. The pirates said they would drop the demand for money and release the US captain in return for their own freedom. The Americans refused that too.

One US official told the Associated Press that negotiations for Phillips release had been “going up and down”.
“Discussions would be going well, and then they would get discouraged and real angry,” the official said.

The Somalis used a satellite phone to appeal for other pirates to use one of 17 other captured ships to come and rescue them but the presence of the US warship apparently scared them off. Phillips’s captors were on their own.

We had been drifting at sea for four days and my captors were becoming increasingly agitated. Our conditions were cramped, the heat of the day was intense, and we had no food and almost no water. From what I could make out, the Somalis had stalled in their negotiations. And then we ran out of fuel. That was the point when I thought they might kill me out of sheer frustration. It seemed a good sign that they didn’t. The loss of one of their men who had jumped ship had demoralized them, and I thought their nerve was failing. Towards dawn there was more agitation, and I saw them out on deck, hauling in a rope from an American warship. For a brief moment I thought they had surrendered, but no, it was just a tow to get us out of the main channel. The sea swell was severe at this point and the warship shortened the rope, bringing us almost alongside. The mood amongst my captors suddenly turned jubilant, and one of them rushed into the hold and put his gun against my head. Then I knew I would be killed, as a sacrifice, witnessed by my countrymen who had refused to release me. When the retort came I’ll admit it took me quite some time to figure out why a window was broken and why the pirate was lying slumped over my feet. I put it down to dehydration. But I’d never for a moment lost faith in the American government.

At 01:00 hours we were dropped by parachute near the USS Bainbridge and taken on board under the cover of darkness. This was accomplished swiftly and silently, as we have been trained to do. Once on board we acquainted ourselves with the details of the lifeboat in question, its size, design and location. We checked our equipment, chose appropriate weaponry and set up an observation point. The captain of the Bainbridge set course for the lifeboat, which was without fuel and drifting dangerously. Contact was established with the boat and an offer of a towline was accepted. At 03:00 the lifeboat was in tow but choppy conditions meant she was yawing dangerously. At 03:30 the decision was taken to shorten the line, bringing the boat into the calmer wake of the Bainbridge. So far, everything had gone without a hitch. We took up our positions and awaited further developments. At 03:51 we suddenly noted an increased level of activity on board. Our orders were to protect the life of Captain Phillips if it should be in danger. At 03:55 one pirate entered the cabin where the captain was being held and pointed his gun against said captain’s back in such a way that we took it the pirate was ready to use that weapon. So we did the job we were sent to do. We are professionals. Visibility was poor and the boat unstable, but I’ve taken men down under worse conditions; I had absolute confidence in my training.

We almost felt that God had forsaken us, but we knew that could not be, because He knows our duty is to protect our territory.  Unfortunate things had happened. Due to the brutal avarice of those Americans we had no money, and due to the cowardice, the fickleness, of those around we had no support. It was not our fault that we ran out of fuel. Just as we felt He had betrayed us, God came to our rescue. We were drifting in darkness in the ocean when we were offered a towline. We would have taken it from anyone, but when it came from an American warship we understood we had a last chance. At first we thought we would be drawn to port where we could find supplies, reinforcements. Then when we had to come nearer the ship for safe passage, we realized we had more than that. What man could bear to see his brother in mortal peril and not respond? We would bring these heartless Americans down, we would get our money. I took my gun and entered the hold, and I pointed it at that man’s groin. I wouldn’t kill him, but I could stop him having children who would plunder and trespass my land in their turn. And I turned and cursed the black bulk of that warship, look what I dared do, if our demands were not met! This time we would not fail. I always kept faith that God was on our side.

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18 thoughts on “Speaking Like A Pirate

  1. Interesting writing exercise. I will suggest it to my writers’ circle. Thanks for sharing your response to the exercise; it’s really brave of you since it is something outside your comfort zone. I think you’ve captured the different perspectives really well.
    For me it is the other way round: I feel vulnerable writing in my own voice but safe when I am writing from a fictional character’s point of view. Maybe that’s because I don’t have a lot of experience writing non-fiction.
    Did you get the chance to read what the other people doing your course wrote? It’s always really interesting to see how people from different writing backgrounds approach these exercises. Sometimes someone else’s response can inspire you to try something new with your writing.

  2. This looks like a pretty difficult assignment but I like your responses! Would be interested to hear what the feedback is. And thanks for sharing. I would be far too chicken to put my writing out there (other than my blog ramblings that is).

  3. This is a wonderful way to encourage people to think about point of view and voice — and I’m thrilled you’ve shared it with all of us. (How fun, to talk like a pirate, huh?) You’re such a wonderful writer, and to see you willing to go outside your comfort zone is really inspiring. It makes me want to try new stuff myself! I’m teaching an eight week creative writing class at my youngest son’s school (every Friday, starting this Friday) and am thinking about having the boys give this a try. Who doesn’t want to write a pirate story? xoxo

  4. Well, I feel in the cowardly position of saying rather you than me! The results are better than I suspect mine would be. I can only seem to write with any purpose if I’m writing about what I’m interested in. Such limitations. Set a task like this I would probably produce something sterile and lifeless. Hope you get a good response from your tutor. Keep up the good work.

  5. That was a tough assignment, but you coped with it admirably. It’s a fine piece of writing, especially for someone who hasn’t dabbled in fiction for twenty years. And well done for sharing. I wonder whether there will be an outbreak of pirate memes?

  6. You are a master of understatement (“I put it down to dehydration”). So tough to write outside one’s comfort zone, but there was no question there were three different perspectives there.Neat exercise (maybe I’ll try it sometime).Speaking of perspectives, I have left you an award on my blog, if you do that sort of thing. Come by if you do–and even if you don’t. It’s always nice to hear from you.

  7. First of all a BIG thank you to everyone for being SO kind – really, you are all such lovely, supportive people. Thank you.

    Helen – the course I’m on is a one-to-one mentoring scheme and alas, I don’t get to see what other people make of the same exercises. I heartily wish I could – that would be extremely interesting. If you do the exercise with your circle, please do let me know as I would love to see what others do. As for vulnerability, I think it’s all down to what you’re used to. Familiarity does breed such lovely, useful contempt for all the risks involved! :)

    Pete – I’d be interested in my feedback, too, but I’m still waiting to hear from my tutor. Sigh. I must say I did hesitate to post this up (and will probably take it down at the end of the day), but my blogging friends are so gentle and insightful, I decided to trust them. And very glad I did.

    Dear bloglily – oh you are sooo lovely, bless you for being so nice. I can imagine a class of boys doing an infinitely better job with the pirates, and I would love love love to hear what they came up with! And I can imagine you would be just a brilliant teacher (fun AND no question you’d keep them in line). I do hope you’ll tell us how the class goes.

    Lilian – aw thank you. You and Bloglily are the kind of bloggers I blush before showing this sort of thing to, so thank you so much for the encouragement!

    Bookboxed – Well I would definitely say that I am like you – I like to write about something that interests me intellectually but that has a profound emotional side. Then I feel I might be able to come up with something to say. I will not deny this was HARD. And others could do it much better, but you know, I didn’t think I’d manage it at all, and I did put something together in the end, so for that I will be thankful!

    Catherine – lol! I do hope so. I would love to see how other people manage this. It would be a revelation to me, I’m sure, and I’d think oh so THAT’s how it’s done! But thank you so much for the kind words – they are much appreciated!

    ds – oooh thank you! I love awards! I’ll be right over. And you are quite right that it is hard to venture outside the comfort zone. In the end I had to do this all in one rush, while I had my courage screwed up for it! I would so love to see what other people make of the same exercise, so please do consider it! :)

  8. Three completely different POVs and writing styles and all succinct. Not easy. I was struck by how all three characters have absolute faith in themselves and either God or the government. I wonder if that’s the case in a situation like this? I think I would be hoping no one screwed up but assuming glumly that they would.

  9. Very nice Litlove. You succeeded in creating a different voice for all three, not as easy as one would think I imagine. I like the dispassionate tone of the sharpshooters. Of all three I think I like the pirate one best. There seems to be a bit more to it lurking below the surface, more story unsaid but still there. Well done on the writing and being brave and sharing them! :)

  10. Honeypiehorse – well the endings were just a device really. I had asked my husband about how a man might feel and he just looked oddly at me and said ‘Feelings…?’ so I took a blind stab in the darkness! lol! I’m sure there are many, many better alternatives, including yours. If you feel like trying out the exercise, please do. I’m longing now for someone else to give it a go!

    Stefanie – I may have finally warmed up a bit by the pirates and begun to unclench! :) Thank you for your kind words, I can certainly attest to needing to be brave to have a go at it, and brave to post it here! But everyone really has been very nice and supportive, for which I am hugely grateful.

    You may all like to know that my tutor got back to me to say on the whole it was fine, but the captain could have used a bit more emotion (she described him as a man who might as well have been conducting traffic on the A1 – lol! so true!) and the pirates were a bit over the top. My next assignment is a character study. A man and a woman get on a train and sit in seats opposite one another, where they are conscious of each other. That’s it – 500 words apiece for anything I like that happens next. Oh help….!

  11. What a fascinating exercise, successfully written. Three completely different stories, all perfectly valid.

    “While it may be a generalisation from too little information,” said Archie, “what I noticed is that you may have the same difficulty as I with dialogue.

    Archie continued, “I do not have an ear for it and that is one reason I have avoided writing fiction. I am much more comfortable as a reporter.”

    Or is it just that I am presumptuous because dialogue comes in another part of this course?

  12. Thank you for sharing this! I can understand how uncomfortable shifting from non-fiction to fiction can be, but I’m confident that with time and practice you’ll be fine dealing with that huge freedom and will find it fun even! (yes, yes, believe us, fiction can be as fun to write as to read ;) …)

  13. I particularly liked the final perspective … and this line: We almost felt that God had forsaken us, but we knew that could not be, because He knows our duty is to protect our territory.

    I liked this line because it gave me a strong mental response to your character, along the lines of: “Good grief, don’t you realize that EVERYONE in a war feels that way? How can God be on everyone’s side? Either He’s on nobody’s side, or He doesn’t exist.” Anyway, with that single line, you delineated a very recognizable character, and one vivid enough to annoy me. :-)

  14. Very nice job, Litlove! What fabulous exercises your tutor is giving you. I like the character study idea. I think you did a great job capturing the various voices; the last one was particularly fun to read — very chilling, actually.

  15. I think it would be difficult to put this into the pirate’s POV but I get a strong sense from the piracy stories in general of the desperation of people living in a failed state. So perhaps it’s less about religion for them than about sheer survival and opportunism and the thrill of being strong and doing something about their situation.

  16. Archie – lol! You are quite right, I have a horror of dialogue. I love jotting down the funny things my family says, but to make it up from scratch, well, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I daresay my course will take in dialogue. Gulp! And I will let you know how it goes! :)

    Smithereens – I’m not absolutely sure I’ll ever cross the floor to fiction writing, but the course is fun and I’m enjoying trying out things I’ve never done before – even if it is a bit nerve-wracking sometimes! I have a renewed respect for people who write fiction, though. :)

    David – aww thank you! I feel truly privileged and delighted to have annoyed you. That’s marvellous news.

    Dorothy – thank you, too! That’s so kind of you. The exercises are good, even if I feel daunted every time I receive the new one! I’ve just done the character study and it was a bit more in my comfort zone. I heave a sigh of relief every time I get over the next obstacle – but I’m enjoying that, too. It’s good to shake things up a bit.

  17. Nicely done, Litlove! I think it would be much harder to write fiction than non fiction (well, both sound challenging to me actually). At least you could work from an outline of sorts–of facts. Your next assignment sounds kind of fun (well, sounds like fun to read if you are kind enough to share again). I have a feeling you will come up with something wonderful (am thinking of your creative introduction to your post on your book group). This is what impresses me with fiction writers–coming up with a story like you’ll have to write–out of thin air! Good luck!

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